When Tara Pauley discovered a lump in her breast she believed wholeheartedly that there was nothing to worry about.
The 35-year-old mother-of-two admits she was confident that statistically she would be one of the nine out of 10 women whose breast lumps turn out to be nothing more than a cyst or fatty tissue.
Tara, of Haley Close in Hemingford Grey, made the decision to keep an eye on the lump, convinced it was just a part of her monthly cycle. But when it was still there a few weeks later she booked an appointment to see her GP. She even attended a few early appointments on her own as she couldn’t believe there wasn’t going to be any bad news.
“When I went to see the consultant I took my husband with me, but for moral support more than anything,” she said, “as I thought they might stick a needle in me and drain some fluid.”
So when she was given the devastating news – a malignant tumour in her right breast and suspicious lesions in the left, it came as a huge shock.
“My instant reaction was ‘how am I going to tell the children mummy has cancer’. The first thing is dealing with the shock and understanding the diagnosis and then quite quickly you have to work out your treatment options because they are different for everyone.
“But there was also a part of me that thought, ‘here I am in my mid-30s and probably the fittest I’ve ever been. I had been losing weight and had just reached my target weight so it seemed somewhat ironic that it should happen now.”
Telling her children, a son aged 10 and a five-year-old daughter, was made a bit easier with the support she received from the Macmillan breast cancer nursing team who provided books that help youngsters to understand what is happening to mummy. They are designed to be age appropriate and have titles such as, Mummy’s Lump.
“The children were, in fact, amazing but it was incredibly difficult to explain what cancer is and that mummy will have to be very poorly before she can get better,” said Tara.
After further screening and tests, Tara, a research midwife at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy and underwent a 10-and-a-half hour operation, which included reconstructive surgery, at Hinchingbrooke in September.
Tara now has to face dealing with the after-effects of chemotherapy and knows her hair will fall out in the next week or so, but she is also facing the onset of the menopause as her particular cancer is estrogen-positive.
“There is a whole mix of emotions because breasts and hair are such a huge part of my identify as a woman and it feels like I am losing my femininity. As a couple we had completed our family, but no-one wants their fertility taken away from them in this way.”
She says a few weeks post surgery she is beginning to heal and starting to feel more human, but she knows the side effects of the chemotherapy, which can include mouth ulcers, constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, hair loss, infection, insomnia, kidney damage and dry skin will be tough.
“Perhaps it’s the midwife in me, but it feels a lot like childbirth in the sense that you may or may not experience them, everyone has a different story. Still any person going through this knows it’s a small price to pay to try and stay alive or give yourself the best chance.”
Tara joined the Woodlands Support Group, which is a collection of women who are at different stages of treatment and recovery from breast cancer, some of whom have produced a Hollywood style calendar to raise awareness and also funds for the group.
INFORMATION: contact Hollywood or Bust on Facebook for information or support from Macmillan, go to: www.macmillan.org.uk.